St. Patrick's Day must be the most fun saint's feast day that I know. The celebration is so global that everywhere in the world joins in the merrymaking. A good amount of Irish grub and tipple is consumed on this day.
To join in the celebration, I made a classic Irish stew made with Guinness. Beef stew can be quite generic but this one has a rather unusual pair of ingredients that you won't recognize unless you are told that it's there. The base of this stew is Guinness, an Irish black stout made from roasted barley that has a characteristic bitter taste. To counteract that, chopped prunes are added. I know that prunes have been the butt of jokes but it does work wonders for this stew. It is the ingredient here that must not be omitted. The pair made this stew taste so deep and rich and extraordinarily tasty. It is highly scented and exudes an air of celebration. The rest of the ingredients are very ordinary but the whole dish tastes really special, almost Christmassy.
I served this with another Irish staple, champ which is mashed potatoes with spring onions.
200 gms. bacon, cut into lardons (about 1 cup)
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 medium onions, chopped
butter plus oil for frying the beef
1 to 1.2 kg. of stewing beef (cut into 1 1/2" cubes)
3 tbsps. plain flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
8 pitted prunes chopped
1 tbsp. tomato puree (tomato paste)
2 small sprigs of thyme
1 beef stock cube
1 500 ml. bottle of Guinness stout
5 medium carrots, cut into chunks
2 tbsps. chopped parsley
Pre-heat the oven to 300° F/150° C.
Dry fry the bacon lardons in a heavy oven proof pot until it exudes oil and starts to brown (do not let it crisp). Add the garlic and sautee until light brown. add in the chopped onions and cook on low heat until soft and translucent. This will take about 15 minutes.
While this is happening, prepare the beef pieces. Put the beef in a mixing bowl. Mix the flour, salt and pepper in another bowl. Sprinkle over the beef while stirring until all the pieces are coated.
Heat up a heavy frying pan. Add 1 tbsp. of butter and 1 tbsp. of oil. Add a few beef pieces at a time and fry until seared and browned. Do not crowd the pan. There should be space between the pieces so that they do not steam and release their juices. Do this in batches. Add more butter and oil as needed.
When all the beef pieces are browned, add them to the sauteed mixture. Add the chopped prunes, tomato puree, thyme, stock cube and Guinness.
Bring to a boil, covered, on the stove top before transferring to the oven. Cook for 1 hour before adding in the carrots. Cook until tender for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. This may also be cooked on the stove top, on low heat, instead of the oven.
Season to taste with salt if needed. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley before serving. Parsley is not just a garnish here. It adds freshness to the rich dish.
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